My grandmother died last week at the age of 91. It's hard to believe she's actually gone this time because she's supposedly had six months to live for the last three years. But she's always been a determined woman. "Six months to live? Hah! I'll show you!" And she did, baffling doctors who said there was no logical reason this woman's heart should still be beating on just one, tiny vessel.
She lived in her own little house on my brother's property and I think she lived so long because of that. She was showered with love and care. My brother had coffee with her every morning, my sister-in-law cared for her around the clock and my niece and nephew were always barging in to her house to tell her about school, soccer and their friends. She spent her days sitting on the couch watching Cops and Giants baseball games, chatting with family and friends who'd stop by, and occasionally going along for the ride when my sister-in-law ran errands. Being a part of the family kept her heart beating when it should have stopped three years ago.
But even Grandma had to stop eventually, and last week she had a stroke. She fell into a coma and passed away peacefully surrounded by family. I was one of the people sitting with her at the hospital, listening to her breath, holding her hand, talking to her about the sunshine and the blue sky outside and how it was okay for her to go now. She'd proved her point; the doctors were wrong.
I told Queen Teen that Grandma C had died. She got very quiet and looked away from me.
"Do you understand what I mean?" I asked.
She looked at me. "Not really."
"Grandma C's heart stopped beating because she was very old. That means her body has died." I decided to keep things tangible and not get into metaphysics. Queen Teen has a hard enough time understanding how things are.
I continued. "There will be a funeral on Monday when we'll all say goodbye to Grandma. Do you know what a funeral is?"
She shook her head. I explained that Grandma C's body would be in a lovely coffin at the cemetery and that lots of people would be there to say goodbye. My brother would say something about Grandma C and then her body would be buried. We would all go to my brother's house afterward for a party to celebrate Grandma's life. Then I told her it wold be like the party they had when her Grandma M died several years ago. "Do you remember that?"
"Yeah." Then she shrugged and giggled. I stopped talking and hugged her instead.
The funeral was indeed lovely. Short and sweet without a lot of show, just the way Grandma C would want it. Queen Teen wore a pretty dress and sat with Rick, not really comprehending what was happening but understanding it was important that she be quiet. At the celebration later she ate two cookies and hung out with her cousins. I was proud of how mature she was. She neither demanded attention or declared boredom, instead she gave people hugs and responded shyly when someone talked to her. The concept of death is hard to grasp, but the knowledge that it is something to respect did sink in.
Grandma C was always kind to Queen Teen. We would visit once a month and the two would sit on the sofa together and compare clothes.
"Oh, look at those pretty butterflies on your pants! Aren't those nice?" Grandma C would say.
"You have a pretty shirt," Queen Teen replied.
They would look at Grandma C's elephant and teddy bears and then Queen Teen would draw her a picture.
Before we left the party, I went over to Grandma C's little house. There was her cane and lap robe on the sofa where she usually sat, but the television was silent. Her oxygen machine didn't hum: it was unplugged and put away. Her bed was neatly made and her little pink robe was draped across it. Everything was just as she left it, but she wasn't there anymore.
I will miss Grandma C so much.